Functional fitness: Get in shape for everyday activities

Functional fitness: Get in shape for everyday activities

Photography by Sandy Nicholson Image by: Photography by Sandy Nicholson Author: Canadian Living


Functional fitness: Get in shape for everyday activities

You might have mastered your fitness class, but do you still have trouble lifting your luggage into the overhead compartment or moving furniture for your reno? It turns out that, though biceps curls and crunches may make you look good, they won't necessarily prepare you for the movements you need to perform in real life.

That's why a workout trend called functional fitness is becoming popular. It aims to make you better equipped for everyday tasks. The training philosophy pulls the focus away from individual body parts and toward movements  that incorporate multiple muscle groups, says Jamie Snow, personal trainer and general manager of Fuel Training Club in Toronto.

What is functional fitness?
"In life, you squat, you move, you rotate and your body is working together as one unit," she says. Functional fitness helps people develop better physical control, avoid injuries and feel more energetic throughout the day.

It's an approach physiotherapists have been using to correct posture and faulty movements for more than 30 years, adds Maureen Hagan, a physiotherapist herself and GoodLife's vice-president of program innovation and fitness development. And it's growing in popularity because of our aging and sedentary population. "People are weaker, they have less vitality and they're gaining weight," says Hagan. "People are looking to feel better, not just look better."

Curious? Snow showed us how to master a few key exercises to become more functionally fit. Try three sets of these moves, without weights at first (to learn how to control your body weight), then add a light kettlebell for resistance. As you get stronger, work your way up to 16 kilograms. (And, as always, stop if you feel any pain during these exercises and consult a health-care provider.)

1. Goblet squat
functional fitness exercise

Movement: Squat
You do this when: you sit down and stand up, tie your shoe or weed the garden
The workout: Standing with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing out, your core braced and holding a kettlebell centred tight to your chest with your arms bent, slowly lower your bum as far as you can while keeping your back flat, with a slight arch in your lower back. Drive through your heels to engage your glutes as you push yourself back up to standing. Repeat eight to 12 times.

Tip: Your heels should never be lifted during a squat so that your heels, not your toes, carry the bulk of your weight.

2. Kettlebell deadlift
kettlebell deadlift

Movement: Hinge
You do this when: you pick something up off the ground or move furniture
The workout: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell between your feet, push your bum back to hinge at the hips and reach down, bending your knees and keeping your back straight and your core braced. Lift the kettlebell with two hands as you return to standing, engaging your glutes and hamstrings as you pull back up, keeping your arms extended. Repeat eight to 12 times.

Tip: Be careful not to round your spine as you bend over; this overloads the lower back and is how people often "throw out" their backs.

3. Kettlebell windmill
kettlebell windmill

Movement: Twist
You do this when: you reach for something beside you or put something in a cupboard at your side
The workout: Standing with your feet angled to the left and a little more than hip-width apart, and holding a kettlebell in your right hand, raise your right arm straight above your head. Hinge at the hips, bringing your torso to the left and rotating your upper spine so you're looking at the kettlebell, keeping your back straight and sliding your left arm down your left thigh toward the ground. Your arms should be perpendicular to the ground. Squeeze your glutes as you return to standing, keeping your right arm raised. Repeat eight to 12 times before switching to the opposite side.

Tip: Adding a twist or rotation to some of your exercises will help you with everyday activities like reaching for a suitcase beside you.

4. Kneeling row
kneeling row

Movement: Pull
You do this when: you open doors, drag something heavy or pick something up
The workout: Standing beside a bench, rest your right knee and right hand on the seat, keeping your spine straight and your core braced. With a kettlebell in your left hand, pull your left shoulder blade in and bring your left elbow up to your hip. Lower your arm until it's straight. Repeat eight to 12 times before switching to the opposite side. 

Tip: Perfecting your "pull" will help improve your posture, making you stand taller.

5. Elevated pushup
elevated pushup

Movement: Push
You do this when: you open doors or windows or lift something overhead
The workout: With your arms straight, your hands shoulder-width apart on a bench and your legs extended behind you, bend your arms, keeping your shoulders back, your elbows in and your neck and torso straight. When you're as close to the bench as you can get, press your hands into the bench to push yourself back up. Repeat eight to 12 times.

Tip: Use the elevated pushup until you're strong enough for a regular pushup. If you're advanced, flip this move so your feet are on the bench and your upper body bears more weight.

For more fitness exercises, check out these strength-boosting moves.

This story was originally part of "Real-World Workout" in the October 2015 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!


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Functional fitness: Get in shape for everyday activities